How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Can Help with PTSD
For anyone suffering from PTSD, it’s not uncommon to feel alone in your experience, but cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a safe, evidence-based treatment that has been proven to help with trauma healing. If you or someone you care about is struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, keep reading to learn more about how CBT can make a difference.
An Overview of PTSD
Before we explore cognitive behavioral therapy in more depth, let’s first review some common signs of PTSD and what we mean when we say that someone has post-traumatic stress disorder.
Violence, loss, or extreme distress can all cause PTSD, which is recognized by a range of behavioral, mental, and bodily reactions that relate to the trauma in some way.
The most easily conjured image is of a soldier coming home from war. But, of course, the effects of trauma aren’t limited to veterans. PTSD is a long-term mental health condition that can develop as a result of exposure to a variety of traumas. Although, it’s important to note that just because someone experiences a traumatic event doesn’t mean they will automatically develop post-traumatic stress disorder. Certain factors, such as prolonged exposure or physical injury, increase a person’s risk.
Symptoms of PTSD
Part of the reason that PTSD can be so disruptive to an individual’s life is because it can actually feel as though they’re re-experiencing their trauma in real time. Understandably, individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder often avoid things or situations that remind them of their past experience. For example, the sound of a car backfiring or fireworks on the 4th of July may remind a veteran of gunfire.
Fortunately, treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy are now available to support this type of trauma healing. But there was a time when we didn’t know anything about how trauma can alter the neural pathways in the brain. In effect, we can be physically reformed by an experience.
Common symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder often include:
- Insomnia or nightmares
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Severe depression
- Irritability and outbursts
- Anger management issues
- Avoidance behaviors
- Loneliness and isolation
- Self-destructive thoughts or behaviors
Additionally, people who are diagnosed with PTSD are also more likely to struggle with an addiction—most often in an attempt to self-medicate and dull their symptoms. For example, a trauma survivor might use excessive alcohol intake as a coping mechanism, albeit an unhealthy one.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy & PTSD
Cognitive behavioral therapy is often used as a well-respected tool in trauma healing, making it an appropriate therapy for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.
CBT can help to shift a person’s dysfunctional patterns of behavior, thoughts, and emotions. The overarching idea of CBT is that if one of these areas is improved, there will also be beneficial changes to the whole person. For instance, if our thought process is changed for the better, it impacts both our emotions and our behaviors. A healthy mindset generally leads to better life choices, and so on.
Viewed in this way, we can see that we are complex and unable to divorce our actions from our thoughts or feelings. Cognitive behavioral therapy takes a whole-person approach to trauma healing.
Choosing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
When you choose cognitive behavioral therapy, it is often scheduled over the course of 12-16 treatment sessions. This can take place either as group therapy or individual therapy. The following are some of the most common steps a CBT therapist uses to help trauma survivors regain their sense of confidence and control:
- A CBT therapist will spend some time explaining trauma as well as the kinds of reactions people often have to a traumatic event. This information can help the individual put a plan in place for better stress management, as well as how to handle an emotional crisis if one arises.
- Modifying distorted thoughts is another aspect of CBT treatment. This can help someone who has PTSD to let go of negative expectations or patterns of depressive rumination, making way for brighter possibilities.
- Additionally, when a patient is reminded of their trauma in a controlled environment, this can allow them to confront it, as opposed to continuing to avoid what happened.
Long-Term Effects of Untreated PTSD
Unfortunately, there are many long-term effects when PTSD is left untreated, but given all of the ways in which post traumatic stress disorder can affect our lives, this is hardly surprising. Aside from the increased likelihood that someone will abuse drugs or alcohol in an attempt to make their symptoms more bearable, there are other consequences to consider as well.
Notably, issues with anger management and hypervigilance can strain both personal and professional relationships. Depression is also of major concern, as it leads to an overall lower quality of life and can even result in a trauma survivor attempting suicide—a trend that is tragically common among military veterans who have both higher rates of suicide and weapons training.
Over time, untreated PTSD can also take a toll on our physical well-being. Because post-traumatic stress disorder causes dysregulation of an individual’s neurobiology—the biology of the nervous system, people who suffer from PTSD are more likely to experience negative health effects, such as hypertension, chronic pain, and even heart disease.
If this information seems overwhelming, just know that there is help available for trauma survivors. An experienced CBT therapist can guide you or your loved one to take the first steps toward healing trauma, but the most important thing to remember is that you aren’t alone even though it can feel that way sometimes. Struggling with unresolved trauma has an impact on your whole life, as well as your sense of self, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Schedule a Free Consultation
If you’re interested in learning more about cognitive behavioral therapy and how it can be used in the treatment of trauma, please fill out the contact form below. You can also give us a call at 310-453-8788 to talk to a skilled CBT therapist. As always, our team is happy to answer any questions you have.